Guardsmen Training to Aid Civil Leaders in WMD Crises
By Sgt. 1st Class Eric Wedeking
Special to American Forces Press Service
FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo., Aug. 2, 1999 About 220 National Guardsmen from across the nation are training here through mid-August to help civilian authorities rapidly react to potential terrorist incidents involving weapons of mass destruction.
The Army and Air National Guard troops said they are eagerly soaking up the knowledge they need. That means becoming experts in nuclear, biological, chemical and radiological sampling, detection and decontamination; the functions of air re-breathers and other protective wear; emergency communications; and coordinating other civil-military operations.
"I used to watch the television and the news reports about hurricanes, tornadoes, bombings and other disasters and I would say to myself, 'Gee, I wish there was something I could do to help. Well, now I'm doing something to help the country,'" said Washington Air National Guard Tech. Sgt. Jane Bonner, a hazardous modeling specialist with the 10th Military Support Detachment of Tacoma, Wash.
"The military support detachments will serve as the tip of the military response spear to weapons of mass destruction attacks," said Maj. Tammy Miracle, a National Guard Bureau spokeswoman in Arlington, Va. "These detachments [will] help local responders assess the situation, determine possible responses and request state or federal aid.
"Specifically, the detachments can survey an attack area to determine the nature and extent of contamination," she continued. "They are equipped with chemical, biological and radiological protective and monitoring equipment, and advanced communications and automation equipment to assist and augment first-response authorities, she said.
The National Guard established 10 military support detachments and expects all to have an initial operational capacity by the end of 1999. One detachment was assigned to each Federal Emergency Management Agency region. They were co-located with Air Guard aviation units so they could arrange troop and equipment airlifts quickly. Stations are in Natick, Mass.; Scotia, N.Y.; Fort Indiantown Gap, Pa.; Marietta, Ga.; Peoria, Ill.; Austin, Texas; Fort Leonard Wood; Aurora, Colo.; Los Alamitos, Calif.; and Tacoma.
From the beginning, the units have also been called Rapid Assessment Initial Detection teams, but some members note they won't use that name because its acronym, RAID, begs misinterpretation.
"We train our people to be analytical thinkers. We don't train them to bust down doors," said Georgia Army National Guard Capt. Jeff Allen, a survey team leader for the 4th Military Support Detachment, Dobbins Air Force Reserve Base, Marietta.
Detachments are training primarily with civilian subject-matter experts contracted for new-equipment training. They know they're in a fishbowl. They've been watched continually by First Army and Fifth Army observers and controllers, and representatives from the Pentagon's Consequence Management Program Integration Office and other DoD agencies.
The detachments respond to concerns of national leaders and planners who believe the United States faces the threat of terrorism involving nuclear, biological or chemical agents, similar to the Tokyo subway sarin gas attack. The citizen- soldiers and airmen training here are equally convinced that preparedness for such unfortunate incidents is crucial.
"It's not a matter of if an attack is going to happen, but when," said Illinois Army National Guard Sgt. Harold Cubillo, a third-year computer and political science major at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb and a survey team specialist with the 5th Military Support Detachment in Peoria.
Georgia's Allen said the detachments are brimming with nuclear, biological, chemical and radiological subject-matter experts and others holding both civilian and military-acquired skills relating to homeland defense.
"This equipment we use is high-speed, low-drag stuff so we have to have quality people in this unit," said Allen, an Atlanta resident and former senior scientist with the Georgia Environmental Protection Division. "I left a good job on the civilian side to be on the team, but this is something I really wanted to do.
"The training has been good," he added. "But we're looking forward to getting our equipment and doing our individual and collective training at home station, and then getting together with the police and fire departments -- letting them know what we're capable of."
"It's dangerous business, but being a soldier -- that's part of your job," said Texas Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Michael Sullivan, survey team member with the 6th Military Support Detachment in Austin. "This is a very dangerous business we're in, so our training here is extremely important."
"They have been great. They seem to be enjoying the training and they're enthusiastic," said instructor Robert Mayhew of Stafford, Va. He also commended National Guard leadership for establishing high qualification standards for detachment members. "They looked for soldiers who are mentally and physically ready to handle this. There was a strict selection process."
Pennsylvania Army National Guard 1st Lt. James Gerrity, a 3rd Military Support Detachment operations officer at Indiantown Gap, said members with a wealth of civilian and military- acquired skills fill the units.
"We have NBC [nuclear, biological and chemical] NCOs [noncommissioned officers] we picked up from the active Army [and Guard]. We also have medical people, physicians assistants, EOD [explosive ordnance disposal], and people who worked at fire departments as first responders or EMTs [emergency medical technicians]," Gerrity said. Other troops who signed on full- time include chemists, physicists and nuclear technicians, to name a few, he said.
The National Guard is community oriented, he said. That is exactly why it will be a key component in supporting local police and fire departments and other first responders during an actual crisis," he concluded.
[Sgt. 1st Class Eric Wedeking is assigned to the National Guard Bureau Public Affairs Support Element.]